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Inside Iowa State, a newspaper for faculty and staff, is published by the Office of University Relations.

October 22, 2004

Doing the right thing will help retain students

by Karen Bolluyt

Sharon McGuire sometimes uses the description "student retention" in reference to programs in her office. But she said her perspective on retention programs is based on student success, not student numbers.

"I hope we think of student retention as the byproduct of doing the right things, not as something we work on for the sake of enrollment numbers," said McGuire, Academic Success Center (ASC) director and assistant dean of students

ASC staff members offer services for all students, as individuals and in small groups. They provide support for students with disabilities, students who want to improve study skills, students on academic probation and students who need help with particular courses.

McGuire noted that every employee on campus can help students succeed. She mentioned in particular two factors important to student success--feeling connected and feeling competent.

Feeling connected

One good predictor of student success is the extent to which they feel connected to the university. McGuire said every faculty and staff member on campus has the chance to create connections with students.

For example, trying to navigate university systems can make students feel isolated and disconnected.

"When students ask for information or help, and have reached the wrong department, help them find the right department before you send them away," McGuire suggested.

Ideally, McGuire said, all employees can point to actions they have taken to help students feel they are an important part of a university community.

Feeling competent

Small bumps in the road cause some students to lose faith in their competence. Whether it is a student mistake or a problem beyond a student's control, these obstacles can tip the balance in favor of giving up on the university. Illness, financial problems and unclear goals are among many reasons students lose confidence in themselves.

All of us can keep our eyes open for signs of trouble, and steer students toward help, McGuire said.

Elements in place, connections improving

McGuire noted that many campus programs provide non-classroom support for students. And that they all are part of "doing the right things."

Programs include:

  • Teaching/learning seminars
  • Academic advising
  • Residence life/academic services
  • Student clubs
  • Learning communities
  • Tutoring programs in addition to those at ASC
  • Help rooms

Programs for specific groups (such as Hixson scholars, students with disabilities, honors students, adult students, athletes, minority students, women in science and engineering, and first-generation college students).

McGuire said these good programs probably can become better with more coordination and information sharing. She explained that even such things as late registrations are signs that students may need a little extra attention.

"We can make sure such information gets to people who will check in with students and help when necessary. That means we need to coordinate efforts. There are many people involved, in the provost's office, colleges and student affairs," McGuire said.

"Our land-grant emphasis on access to education, combined with an emphasis on success in education, certainly does feel like the right thing," she concluded.


"I hope we think of student retention as the byproduct of doing the right things, not as something we work on for the sake of enrollment numbers."

Sharon McGuire